Preparing for Next Time

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2005-10-04 Print this article Print

Vacuum-cleaner maker Oreck had the linchpin of its business continuity plan blown away by Hurricane Katrina. Intercosmos Media Group rode out Katrina with half a terabyte of data on the line, guarded by a former Green Beret whose preparations included gen


"Our building got power right at noon central time, and we had to manually reset the generator and get power to switch from the batteries to the city grid. That took about 5 minutes. NO MORE DIESEL DUTY."

On Sept. 12, DirectNIC got its power back, but it remains to be seen what happens to the company's location. Solares plans to keep the New Orleans data center running with a skeleton crew because he has favorable lease terms. Whether the company headquarters will come back is another question, though. At the least, Solares says he'll need better backup capability elsewhere.

On Sept. 14, cleanup crews at Oreck's Long Beach plant battle mold from storm water. Oreck's Web site is now running again, but there are two- to three-week delays on Oreck.com orders. The main challenge for Oreck is communications. BellSouth cannot give a timeline on laying the lines it needs to restore communications.

CEO Oreck is looking at other temporary locations for his facilities in Dallas in case the company can't move back to New Orleans quickly. For Oreck, the company's return to New Orleans is a matter of when, not if. "The only reason we wouldn't go back is if New Orleans was a dead city," he says. "Short of that, New Orleans is our home and where our families are. I never seriously considered not coming back."

Meanwhile, New Orleans suffered additional flooding on Sept. 24 from Hurricane Rita, a Category 3 storm, that hit the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Katrina and Rita didn't just wipe out data centers; they wiped out a lot of disaster plans, too. Check out:Baselinemag.com and CIOInsight.com's coverage of the disasters, and the efforts of CIOs to save the data on which their companies depend.

Lessons Learned

No matter what the disaster, there are common items that shouldbe in business continuity plans.

Here are Katrina's lessons.

PEOPLE FIRST. The first effort should be focused on locating your employees and ensuring their safety.

DISTANCE MATTERS. Put your backup data center in a locale far enough away from your primary center to ensure continuity, but close enough to get employees there.

PRIORITIZE YOUR BUSINESS. Focus on the information systems that matter most, such as customer support and manufacturing.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. No matter how well documented your business

Continuity plan, the disaster is likely to throw you an unexpected curveball. Account for the worst possible scenario.

While few companies have said they will permanently leave New Orleans, some firms, such as Ruth's Chris Steak House, won't return.

What to Consider:

Plans Already in the Works. On Sept. 6, Ruth's Chris Steak House, founded in 1965 by New Orleans native Ruth Fertel, said it was permanently relocating to Orlando, Fla., from Metairie, La., a New Orleans suburb. But in the company's Aug. 10 initial public offering prospectus, the company said it expected to relocate corporate headquarters to a new facility "within the next 24 months."

Replacing Workers Who Won't Move. Ruth's Chris CEO Craig Miller said 60% of

its workers at headquarters accepted relocation packages to Florida and 40%, mostly clerical and accounting workers, declined. Factor in whether you could replace skilled workers before making a move.

Incentives to Stay Put. To be sure, tax incentives are a big component of any decision.

New York City and the state of New York are still offering tax write-offs to companies that relocate to the World Trade Center area following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Calculate: How Much Would It Cost You to Move Your Data Center?

Story Guide:

Diary of Disaster: Riding Out Katrina in the Data Center

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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